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We report the results of a study to investigate the context of domestic violence towards women in the Bengali Community of East London through the perspectives of healthcare workers.
Domestic violence is a universal phenomenon affecting all cultures.1 A key to its understanding is the cultural context within which it is manifested; research in this area is sparse although it has been explored in Bangladesh.2 It is common, with 41% of women attending general practice having ‘ever experienced physical violence’. While screening may not be justified,3 women expect healthcare workers to ask about and support them.4
This was a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews, approved by ELCHA ethics committee. The setting was The Bromley by Bow Centre in East London. There were 11 subjects including healthcare workers, GPs and health visitors. The results revealed themes including:
Acculturation and cross-community marriages in Bangladesh and the UK could create tension that could precipitate violence, as could in-laws cohabiting with couples.
These were thought to include exploitation of lack of education of immigrant women and girls, physical beatings, financial deprivation and social isolation. The community's slander of a ‘bad wife’ could be used as psychological abuse.
Perpetrator families were thought to keep abuse hidden as did the victim. In seeking help, the victim was thought to be fearful of retaliation and inhibited by the constant presence of her in-laws.
‘… she told the GP that she fell from the chair … it was too difficult for her to[tell] because one of her family was interpreting for her …’
Wives who leave their own support structure behind can become isolated and their new family may not support her. The community was thought to be unsupported in dealing with domestic violence and the police and social services were thought unhelpful.
The consensus was that professionals thought that women wanted to remain in the family (where this was safe) and enabling this was the ideal.
The conclusions are that this study found that domestic violence within this community, although reflected in other cultures, was also affected by the interface of their own host and native culture. The context can create a culture of secrecy and lack of support, which does not help the victims of domestic violence. The views are ‘secondhand’ via the health professional and may reflect their preconceptions, but they give an insight, perhaps, into some of the issues surrounding this sensitive subject.